Deciding to move out of London was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make. I loved our London flat – my first step on the property ladder – which we’d transformed over four years from a soulless blank box into a beautiful home. We got engaged there. Planned our wedding there. Started a family there. Built a life for ourselves there.
Problem was, being just a small two bedroom flat, it was bursting at the seams. We knew we had to move if we were even going to consider having another baby. But not in a million years did I think we’d move out of London. At least, not yet.
But when a friend put an offer on a lovely house down in Surrey, and we realised that in London (for what we were selling our flat for) we weren’t going to get more than an extra bedroom in an area we didn’t really want to live in…suddenly moving out to the country (as daunting and grown up as that sounded) started to look a lot more appealing.
Sure, my heart longed for a few more years in London, with my short commute, near friends, cool restaurants, amazing parks, cheap babysitters and a never-ending supply of Ubers.
But then my head said, with one baby and thoughts of having another, maybe (just maybe) a life in the country might be better all round. We could get so much more for our money. More space. A proper garden. Near my family. Good Schools. Country pubs. Country walks. Maybe we could even get a dog?! I was sold.
The stars were aligned, and it didn’t take us long for us to find our dream home. A gorgeous country cottage that ticked all the boxes, both for my head and my heart.
It was beautiful, in a nice area, near good schools, not too far to commute and crucially, significantly under budget. You see, it needed a lot of work (and I mean a lot). It had been rented for the last 15 years so was crying out for a new owner who could see its potential, show it some love and bring it back to life.
I remember the first time we looked around it. We were one of four couples viewing the property at the same time. Because of its price point, it was in seriously high demand. We’d heard from the neighbours that countless property developers and every young family in the area had already looked around it, and competition was going to be fierce.
I’ll never forget catching the eye of one of our competition while we all looked around. He made that face that only plumbers make when they’re about to tell you a job is going to cost five times as much as you had budgeted for, and said, “Hmm…big job.”
He wasn’t wrong.
It really was. It was completely run down. The decor was ancient, with wrinkly blue carpets and peeling paintwork. The bathroom was tiny and in no way fit for a young family.
The kitchen was falling apart with no room for a fridge! And the garden (oh my God, the garden) had been left to go wild, overrun with rhododendrons and laurel, that made the whole house feel dark and dingy, hiding its true potential.
But we could see it. Could picture what our life could be there. And we weren’t afraid of a renovation project.
When money’s tight, you have to make some sacrifices to get your dream home. And, if that meant enduring a year of builders’ dust and microwave meals, we figured it would all be worth it in the long run.
If you can’t afford the finished article, build it!
As anyone who’s been following our renovation journey will know, we somehow beat the competition and got the house. And over the past year we’ve truly transformed it from an unloved rental property into our dream country home, fit for our growing family.
It’s been seriously hard work, I’m not going to lie. And we still have so much to do. But I’ve learnt so much along the way. From new skills (I’m quite the DIYer these days) to clever ways to save money (essential for any renovation project as they always go over budget); anything you can do to save a few pounds here and there, makes all the difference.
So, for anyone else thinking about their next big move, or considering taking on a renovation project of their own, here are my top tips for how you can make it a reality (without breaking the bank)!
Getting the best mortgage deal
Before you even start house hunting, it’s really important to know what size mortgage you can afford, so you don’t waste time drooling over properties that are way out of your budget. Whether you’re a first-time buyer trying to navigate the confusing world of home buying for the first time. Or you’re a more experienced buyer looking for a new mortgage to replace your old one or to fund a major renovation project.
Choosing the right mortgage provider could save you some serious moola, with the latest research showing that 58% of all UK homeowners could save £3,000 every year by switching their mortgage.
Whatever type of buyer you are, I’d really recommend checking out Habito, a free online mortgage broker that searches the whole mortgage market for you in literally a matter of seconds – a massive 20,000 products from more than 90 lenders – to make sure you get the very best mortgage deal that suits your individual needs.
From painful personal experience, trying to find the best mortgage deal yourself can be a seriously time consuming and stressful task. But with Habito, it couldn’t be easier, as their service lets you sort your mortgage entirely online and over the phone (saving you the hassle of lengthy meetings at the bank), at a time that suits you (their experts are online until 9pm Monday to Thursday and from 9am to 9pm over the weekend too)!
Plus, once they’ve found your perfect mortgage deal, you get your own dedicated Habito mortgage expert who is always on call via instant live chat to answer your questions, provide qualified, jargon-free advice, while keeping you updated with the progress of your application. Such a great service, so well worth checking them out to make sure you secure the best mortgage deal on offer.
SIDE NOTE: Habito is running an incredible competition on their Instagram account, where you and a friend could win £300 EACH to put towards your mortgage or a renovation project of your own! Go check out their post here for details of how to enter!
Finding the right builder
I really thought finding a builder for our renovation project would be easy. But as it turns out, most decent builders are booked up for months (if not a year!) in advance, so you really do have to start looking as early as possible to find the right fit.
Search online for highly rated local builders and tradesman (local is best as they have a reputation to uphold in the area and will likely work longer hours as it’s quicker for them to get home at the end of the day). Ask friends, neighbours and community Facebook groups if anyone knows of any reliable ones they would recommend. And make sure you get detailed quotes (not just estimates) from as many builders as possible.
We called about 20 builders for our project, of which only nine came to see the house and a measly five eventually provided a quote. Of these, the size of their quotes varied by a shocking amount, with the highest quote being more than three times higher than the lowest one…all for the exact same project! Just shows that some builders will try to push their luck, so you really need to get as many different quotes as possible to find one that is going to work for you.
Oh, and make sure you budget with the assumption that the final cost will be at least 20% more than the original quote. Almost every renovation project goes over budget (especially for older properties like ours) so make sure this extra cost is factored into your finances before you start. Otherwise you could end up with a half-finished extension when the money runs out!
Do it yourself
Not all of us are experienced tradesmen, able to tile a bathroom, plaster a wall and rewire outdated electrics without batting an eyelid. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a huge number of jobs in any renovation project that, with a little determination and perhaps some strategically hired tools, we can’t do ourselves. I never used to be much of a DIYer, but I forced myself to learn new skills both in the house and outside in the garden, which not only sped up our renovation project but also saved us a shed load of money.
As they say, practise makes perfect, so get stuck in and you just might surprise yourself. I know we have!
Recycle & Reuse
Talk about stating the bleeding obvious but buying everything new is really bloody expensive. So, I’ve been pleasantly surprised during our renovation project by just how much stuff we’ve been able to save from landfill and re-use within our house and garden.
From recycling an old door we found in the shed and turning it into our new larder door. Or reusing old plumbing fixtures and fittings in our new utility room and downstairs loo. To recycling discarded builders’ rubble and flagstones to create a dry-stone wall around our new patio, it really has felt so good (and again saved loads of dosh) to recycle things that otherwise would have ended up at the dump.
All in all, creating our perfect home in the country has been a massive learning curve, full of amazing highs and (frankly) some lows that I’d rather forget. But I can honestly say, we 100% made the right decision to move out of London when we did. And seeing this old unloved house come back to life…well, there really is no feeling like it!
This sponsored post has been written in collaboration with Habito.